Why Study Abroad? Sorting of Chinese Students across British Universities

Héctor Cebolla-Boado, Yang Hu and Yasemin Nuhoḡlu Soysal

British Journal of Sociology of Education, published online August 2017

British Journal of Sociology of Education
British Journal of Sociology of Education

Abstract: This research contributes to the booming literature on the mobility of international students in higher education. We analyse university-level factors that affect the sorting of Chinese international students across British universities. We produced a unique data-set merging university-level data from the 2014 UK Higher Education Statistics Agency and the Higher Expectations Survey, supplemented by qualitative evidence from six focus groups for illustrative purposes. Our results, using nationally representative evidence for the first time, confirmed that university prestige is the most important driver for the sorting of Chinese students across British universities, together with further effects of the broader social and cultural offerings that the universities provide. Interestingly, the cost of study and marketing strategies deployed by universities do not seem to drive the Chinese students’ university choices. Our findings underline the importance of diffuse institutional factors such as university rankings and their taken-for-granted status by students themselves.